Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Og’s King Sized Bed (Deuteronomy 3:11)

Who is the first bedstead owner mentioned in the Bible? Og (Deuteronomy 3:11)

Before undertaking the conquest of the Promised Land, ten of twelve Israelite spies return with a negative report citing the massive inhabitants of the land (Numbers 13:33). Og, king of Bashan, seems to be evidence that their report is not entirely without merit (Numbers 21:33-25; Deuteronomy 3:1-11).

While the book of Numbers offers only a brief summary of the Israelites’ victory over Og (Numbers 21:33-35), Moses expounds upon the triumph while addressing the nation for the last time in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 3:1-11). To those who subscribe to the documentary hypothesis, the J source minimizes the battle while the D source accentuates it.

Moses finds the battle significant enough to recount it in his final remarks (Deuteronomy 3:1-11). The narrative’s final verse notes that Og is the last of the Rephaim and at the time of the text’s writing, his bed remains as a testament to his might (Deuteronomy 3:11).

(For only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bedstead was an iron bedstead; it is in Rabbah of the sons of Ammon. Its length was nine cubits and its width four cubits by ordinary cubit.) (Deuteronomy 3:11 NASB)
Many have viewed this editorial insertion as an historical gloss added by a later redactor. It is presented as a parenthetical aside in many prominent translations (ASV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). Daniel I. Block (b. 1943) remarks that the interjection “invites ancient readers to check the narrator’s veracity and confirm the magnitude of Israel’s victory (Block, Deuteronomy (The NIV Application Commentary), 31).”

The annotation highlights Og’s colossal iron bed. At the time of the text’s writing, Og’s bedstead is a museum piece in Rabbah, modern-day Amman, the capital and largest city in Jordan. This is the first reference to Rabbah in Scripture (Deuteronomy 3:11; Joshua 13:25, 15:60; II Samuel 11:1, 12:26, 27, 29, 17:27, I Chronicles 20:1; Jeremiah 49:2, 3; Ezekiel 21:20, 25:5; Amos 1:14).

The furniture in question is alternately translated as Og’s “bedstead” (ASV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, RSV), “bed” (ESV, HCSB, MSG, NIV, NLT, NRSV), or “coffin” (CEV).

Everett Fox (b. 1947) and Peter C. Craigie (1938-1985) render the word “couch”. This is functionally accurate as John H. Walton (b. 1952) and Victor H. Matthews (b. 1950) note, “Beds were not just for sleeping but were often used for reclining on during feasts and celebrations. Some reliefs picture kings reclining on magnificent couches (Walton and Matthews, Genesis—Deuteronomy (The IVP Bible Background Commentary), 223).”

As indicated by the CEV’s translation, some have proposed that Og’s bed is actually a sarcophagus or coffin. A.R. Millard (b. 1937) traces:

According to S.R. Driver [1846-1914] it was J.D. Michaelis [1717-1791] who gave birth to the idea that “bed” here, ‘ereś, might denote a sarcophagus, an idea which many now accept...The metamorphosis of Og’s bed into a basalt coffin was completed when it gained authoritative status in modern Bible translations...The NEB renders ‘ereś barzel, “sarcophagus of basalt,” with a footnote “or iron” for basalt, and the United Bible SocietiesGood News Bible offers “His coffin made of stone,” with footnotes “coffin or bed” and “stone or iron.”...Despite the unanimity of commentators, S.R. Driver’s caution deserves to be heeded: “it is not impossible that the giant relic shown at Rabbah was a sarcophagus; though, as this meaning of ‘rś is uncertain, it is better to suppose that what was really a sarcophagus was popularly called a ‘bed’.” In other words, “Og’s bed” was a name like “King Arthur’s Seat” in Edinburgh, or “Solomon’s Throne” in Iran. That is, in fact, the only way to explain how a word which always means ‘bed” can be translated “coffin,” and how a word which always denotes “iron” can be given the meaning “stone.” Archaeologists have yet to unearth a large basalt coffin in Amman inscribed “The iron bed of King Og,” and it is unlikely they will do so. (Lyle Eslinger [b. 1953], “King Og’s Bed and other Ancient Ironmongery”, Ascribe to the Lord: Biblical and Other Essays in Memory of Peter C. Craigie [1938-1985], 482-84)
The belief that the bed is actually a coffin is not universal. Gerhard Von Rad (1901-1971) refutes:
The object which was shown in Rabbah of the Ammonites as the ‘bed’...can hardly have been originally a sarcophagus in view of its length (about fourteen feet), for it is more than double the length of the famous sarcophagus of Ahiram of Byblus. (Von Rad, Deuteronomy: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 44-45)
The Hebrew term literally indicates a bed. Robert Alter (b. 1935) defines:
The Hebrew noun ‘eres is a poetic term for bed, perhaps used here (instead of the more prosaic mishkav or mitah) to give this declaration an epic flourish. Moshe Weinfeld [1925-2009] proposes that it means “bier,” a secondary meaning that mitah has. Several scholars have noted that late in the second millennium B.C.E., iron had been only recently introduced and was still regarded as a rare metal. But the sheer hardness of the substance might be meant to indicate the martial toughness of the gigantic king. (Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, 893)
The bed is characterized by its prodigious size and its iron composition, likely state of the art for the period. Christopher J.H. Wright (b. 1947) researches:
Alan R. Millard [b. 1937] has argued from archaeological evidence, first that Og’s “iron bed” was indeed a bed and not...a basalt sarcophagus, and secondly, that it was probably a wooden frame plated or decorated with iron, not solid iron (like “ivory palace,” Psalm 45:8). At this point in history, the transition from the Late Bronze to Early Iron Age, iron is still a precious and costly metal and therefore fit the decor of the royal bedroom. Millard also suggests that since iron became the common metal of following centuries, this small incidental note about a remarkable “iron bed” is consistent with an early date for Deuteronomy. Cf. Millard, “King Og’s Bed.” Unlike Og, the matter has not been laid to rest: cf. Robert Drews [b. 1936], “The ‘Chariots of Iron’ of Joshua and Judges” and Millard, “Iron Bed.” (Wright, Deuteronomy (New International Biblical Commentary), 43-44)
Edward J. Woods sees a further explanation for the metal:
In this archaeological note, Og is pictured as a giant, requiring a huge bed that has to be made of iron in order to bear his weight. For this reason, it would have been considered a remarkable piece for the Late Bronze period (second millennium BC), when iron was considered to be precious, as with the term iron chariots (Joshua 17:16, 16; Judges 1:19, 4:3, 13). In the Iron Age of the first millennium BC, one did not mention that chariots (or beds) were made of iron, as this was understood...The reference to the Ammonite city of Rabbah might place this note as late as the time of David, when Rabbah was the capitol of Ammon. (Woods, Deuteronomy (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 97-98)
The distinguishing characteristic of the piece is its size, nine cubits in length (Deuteronomy 3:11). Doug McIntosh (b. 1945) measures:
The last phrase is literally, “according to the cubit of a man.” This form of measurement, the most common biblical linear standard, came from a measurement available to everyone: the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger, approximately eighteen inches. A cubit is also twice the distance of the space between the thumb and the tip of the little finger, what the Bible calls “a span.”...The measurement of the “cubit of man” received confirmation some years ago when the Siloam inscription was discovered in Jerusalem. It describes the length of Hezekiah’s Tunnel as 1,200 cubits long. Its length in modern terms is 1,749 feet, yielding a measurement for the standard cubit of 17.49 inches. (McIntosh, Deuteronomy (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 47)
Peter C. Craigie (1938-1985) calculates:
The common cubit...appears to have been...approximately 18 inches. Thus the approximate dimensions of Og’s sarcophagus or couch would have been 13½ × 6 feet (4.1 × 1.8 meters). (Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 120)
Og truly has a king-sized bed. There are presently two sizes of king sized beds and four names for them. A Standard (or Eastern) King is about 4" wider and a California (or Western) King is 4" longer. A Standard measures 76" wide x 80" long while a California is 72" wide x 84" long. While Og’s bed is not much wider than the modern king sized bed, its length is nearly twice the size of even the longer California King.

Tellingly, this extraordinary object is all that the once powerful king leaves to history.

Are there other famous (or notorious) beds in history worthy of being museum pieces? When have makeshift coffins been constructed from objects not intended for such use? What size bed do you employ? If you could choose only one of your possessions to be left for posterity, what would it be?

Interestingly, the text discusses the size of Og’s bed though not his own. The insinuation, however, is clear: Og is a giant. An American equivalent is the 27th president, William Howard Taft (1857-1930). An urban legend that the 340-pound president became stuck in a White House bathtub originated with chief usher Irwin Hood “Ike” Hoover (1871-1933)’s 1932 memoir 42 Years in the White House. While Hoover’s story cannot be corroborated, newspaper reports housed in the National Archives record that in preparation of Taft’s 1909 trip to inspect construction of the Panama Canal, the captain of the USS North Carolina requested an oversized bathtub to accommodate the president-elect. The tub is described as having “pondlike dimensions”. Like Taft’s bathtub, the proportions of Og’s bed intimate his own size.

Og’s height is also implied in his being described as the last of the Rephaim (Deuteronomy 3:11). Og is a giant and, as such, represents the living embodiment of the Israelites’ worst nightmares (Numbers 13:33). Yet with God’s help, Og is soundly defeated (Numbers 21:33-25; Deuteronomy 3:1-11) and the land once ruled by Bashan’s king is redistributed to the Israelite tribe of Manasseh (Deuteronomy 3:13). With Og’s death the giants have been defeated.

Stephen K. Sherwood (b. 1943) comments:

Only Og remained of the Rephaim—they had all been wiped out, mostly by other peoples. Fear of them was groundless. Pointing to Og’s iron bed emphasizes that the last of the giants is no longer. Certainly, the aside on Og’s bedstead is intended to stress the great size of the defeated enemy and thereby to allay the people’s fear of the size of their future opponents. (Sherwood, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy (Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 248)
All that remains of Og and his kingdom is his bed. Telford Work (b. 1965) interprets:
Having a bed of then-rare iron reveals Og’s power. The relic is a museum piece whose existence evokes awe at the formidable enemy whom God had delivered to Moses. (Work, Deuteronomy (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 52)
What was to be a witness to Og’s grandeur becomes a testimony to God’s power. J.G. McConville (b. 1951) observes:
The monument to the hero king’s memory ironically becomes an eloquent witness to the power of Yahweh over all such giants (cf. Deuteronomy 1:28). (McConville, Deuteronomy (Apollos Old Testament Commentary), 94)
Og’s bed is a constant reminder that God is bigger than giants. In his parting words to his nation, Moses reminds the people of this battle and as such this fact. There will be many battles ahead during the conquest of the Promised Land and the Israelites need not fear. Besides, the giants have been eliminated.

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) interprets:

Og is identified as the last of the Rephaim, and Sihon by indirection is also linked with the Rephaim, since he is a likeness of Og. Thus the narrative reports on the decisive defeat of the “giants in the land” by the power and will of YHWH. The importance of the “Rephaim-connection” is that Israel is reminded that YHWH has already defeated the Rephaim, or their equivalents (Deuteronomy 2:10-12, 20-21)...None of these was a match for YHWH in earlier times. The inference is that neither Sihon nor Og in his turn can resist Israel when Israel is guaranteed by YHWH. As Israel can remember these ancient victories against seemingly great odds, so Israel can legitimately anticipate victories in the forthcoming disputes with occupants of the land. None of the enemies is a match for the power of YHWH, the very assurance that Israel in Deuteronomy 1:26-33 was unable or unwilling to trust. (Brueggemann, Deuteronomy (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), 39)
The defeat of Og serves not only as a reminder to the Israelites preparing to vanquish the people dwelling in the Promised Land but to all who people who have followed them who serve the very same God.

Patrick D. Miller (b. 1935) applies:

Fearfulness and anxiety about future large and real problems will not get one across the border into the new land. The issue is not whether the Anakim are there, mighty and tall. They are indeed. If one doubts that, one has only to view King Og’s fourteen-foot bed! The issue, however, is whether the people will “see” that God has brought them safely by the Amalekites to this point (Exodus 17:8-16) and can and will give them victory over the Anakim they see ahead. (Miller, Deuteronomy (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 36)
What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome? What past victory gives you hope for the present and the future? Is any tangible reminder of that triumph preserved? What seemingly insurmountable obstacle is currently obstructing your path? Do you take comfort from Bible stories such as God’s ability to fell Og?

“My bed is actually two king beds put together.” - Cindy Margolis (b. 1965)


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